MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For Steven Taylor, his journey with higher education at Southwest Tennessee Community College started with his interest in robotics and drones. It then led him to becoming a technical training specialist at the school.
"There’s always going to be technicians needed for electronic technology or engineering technology," Taylor said. "I got a CITC (computer information technology) degree in networking and networking is huge and it’s greatly increasing. The demand is more and more.”
Computer information technology is one of the several programs at Southwest where the career demand is high, Vice-President of Student Affairs Kendricks Hooker said.
The pandemic has reshaped the workforce from people rethinking their careers, turning hobbies into careers or looking for work after being laid off. Hooker said it's a great time and opportunity to pursue higher education, with a number of employers in need of a skilled workforce.
Hooker said the local jobs most in need are in the health, technology, and engineering sectors. Those jobs range from the likes of nursing, pharmacy technicians, IT services, and cyber security.
"Those are some really, really hot programs to pursue and, in my opinion, they’re pandemic proof," he said. "So regardless what is happening, these programs will allow you to enter a workspace and be comfortable and knowing you have a job that is going to last.”
He said the job of Southwest is serve as the "community's college" which means feeding the local job market of the greater Memphis metro economy.
“We feel very confident that when our students graduate that there is a job opportunity for them," he said.
That means finding and developing programs for careers in need. The last thing they want to do, he said, is to oversaturate the job market.
"Our workforce development team, we are constantly engaged in business and industry to understand their needs, to identify gaps and we have the ability to customize training and development for students and/or their employees to meet those demands in the workforce," he said.
Southwest student Kelly Taylor is pursuing a degree in computer programming. With one year left of school, she said she's already feeling more confident about her future.
"You never know what you can achieve," she said. "Just put your foot through the door. Go for it. That’s pretty much what I did. I didn’t know I was going to love what I was doing.”
Freshmen and adults can qualify for free tuition at Southwest through the state's TN Promise and TN Reconnect scholarships.
Hooker said students are slowly beginning to return to schools since the pandemic disrupted last year but enrollment is still down about 30-40% compared to fall 2019.
Fall classes begin Aug. 23.